Sunday, August 31, 2003

What's most shocking about Barak Barfi's Washington Post op-ed about recently-killed high-ranking Hamas official Ismail Abu Shanab is not that it describes him as "A True Palestinian Pragmatist", who "charted a middle path" and "hedged his bets". Nor is it that the article contrasts Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas' "one-sided conciliatory approach" unfavorably with that of "true pragmatists" like Abu Shanab, who by "threatening Israel....gain legitimacy among their constituency". Nor is it that the author is a visiting research fellow at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and a part-time proucer for ABC News, and that his portrayal of a leader of an Islamic fundamentalist terrorist group like Hamas as a "moderate" is given a respectable hearing in a major American newspaper.

No, what's most shocking about the column is that its main claim is objectively true. Abu Shanab, a leader in an organization dedicated to destroying Israel through terrorism, really was a moderate by Palestinian standards. He "often spoke of how the Zionist lobby controlled the United States"--but (probably) never stooped to spreading some of the wilder blood libels about Jews often propagated in the official Palestinian media. Although he embraced terrorism against Jewish civilians in Israel as a legitimate tactic, "[h]e tried to avoid praising suicide bombings and had difficulty justifying them." He "often said--albeit in a circumlocutory manner--that if the Israelis retreated to the June 4, 1967, lines, withdrew from East Jerusalem and allowed refugees from the 1948 war to return, peace would be possible." (That is, he demanded that Israel cease to be a majority-Jewish state, but did not call for the death or expulsion of all Jews from the region, as other Palestinian leaders have.)

True, he "did not have the courage and conviction to wholeheartedly denounce violence or stand up for peace"--but then, what Palestinian leader today would dare espouse such extremist views?

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